There's been plenty of back-slapping in the past few days among bloggers for picking apart Dan Rather's flimsy and utterly un-newsworthy story on George Bush's already well-documented abandonment of the National Guard -in my opinion, way too much self satisfaction.
All blogging has done that I can see in terms of this year's election is to help entrench the pathetic moral relativism that cripples mainstream media, especially the flavor found on television "news." The pro-Bush and anti-Bush bloggers that dominate the scene merely make the talk show hosts adhere to their cowardly 50/50 doctrine. And this allows for liars like the Swift Boaters to float untruths that are then portrayed - in terms of talking time - as at least half true. Almost nothing is too crazy, too wild to spout - the Roves and the Moores understand that their gelded media partners in the reality show that is national politics will give them equal time.
Calling it fairly, you'd have to agree that in the main this has benefitted the Bush-Cheney reelection effort, because it creates doubt about what John Kerry chose to make the centerpiece of his campaign (Vietnam) and it distracts from the central issue of the day - the utter disaster that is Iraq. No surprise the polls have moved.
What's pretty funny in all this is the us versus them attitude of big-time bloggers. Hey fellas, it's not us versus them - we are them! If you look closely, you can see the "big media" roots of the bloggers with the biggest followings. That's no accident: these guys are pros. Hell, Jeff Jarvis was a critic for the largest circulation magazine in the United States, and yet he still argues (sometimes) that blogging is a huge citizens' movement that creates greater accountability.
In today's New York Post, Jarvis urges bloggers not to be smug:
I just hope that bloggers aren't seduced by the scoop and the gotcha as Big Media has been. As a reporter, I well understand the joy of the hunt, the thrill of the kill. But in this campaign, in print and online, the scoops haven't been the real story. The real story is still out there.
But he also seems to take pride in the bloggers' dissection of Rathergate:
I am proud of bloggers for fact-checking Big Media's ass and improving news. I'm also proud that not all bloggers have been in lockstep on Rathergate; they have debated every point of forensic typography. That's good. Debate is how we get to the truth. Debate is how we run a democracy.
Well, I agree with the sentiment, but not with the analysis. No accident that this freedom-loving citizens' media was - in this case - led to its Rathergate attacks by (gasp!) "an Atlanta lawyer with strong ties to conservative Republican causes who had helped draft the petition urging the Arkansas Supreme Court to disbar President Clinton after the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal," according to the LA Times.
Yeah, the LAT did some good old-fashioned reporting and found that "citizen" Buckhead, the intrepid, independent blogger who first reported the typography problems in the 60 Minutes memos, happened to be none other than one Harry W. MacDougald, "a lawyer in the Atlanta office of the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and is affiliated with two prominent conservative legal groups: the Federalist Society and the Southeastern Legal Foundation."
I am hardly shocked - shocked - to find politics at work here. If you do the digging, you won't be either. The best bloggers are generally those with a background in media, the very "mainstream media" or "big media" they tend to deride. Most have worked for, written for, freelanced for at least one of those money-making titles. The blogosphere is, frankly, led by the same chronically underpaid, underemployed group of media workers that helped to create the commercial Internet a decade ago. (I should know: they are me and I am them). Add to that an army of technology geeks, media commentators with books to sell, and politically savvy operatives, and you've got - in my rough estimation - approximately 99% of the best-written, best-trafficked blogs in the world.
So spare me the citizen's media stuff. JD Lasica links to a piece on ABCNews.com by Michael Malone that argues that "big media" is dying at the hands of we small media types. That's crazy talk. Met any blogging millionaires, recently?
On the other hand, I agree with the Jay Rosen's "legacy media" riff - which goes along with the myth of impartiality, and the lurking profit motive in all mainstream journalism. Says Rosen in his terrific round-up on the NYU site:
Journalists find before them, with 50 days left, a campaign overtaken by Vietnam, by character issues, attacks, and fights about the basic legitimacy of various actors - including the press itself, including Dan Rather. It's been a dark week. And the big arrow is pointing backwards.
UPDATE: This post got some responses elsewhere that I'd like to point to. In echoing some of my thoughts, Fred adds:
I can't deal with is all the celebration around this david beating goliath. The blog world is full of so much crap that it makes mainstream media look clean by comparison. So anyone who thinks this is "vindication" for the bloggers is wrong.
Yeah, I agree frankly. JD suggests "we're losing sight of the bigger picture" (also agree) while Jeff says he doesn't fully agree with me, nor I with him (but I suspect we're actually closer on this than at first glance). Jason has a long post playing off mine that, frankly, completes a picture that I painted rather sketchily - no accident, since we wrote and co-wrote and edited each other's articles on what is now called "citizen's media" for many years. Quoth Chervokas (on the apsect I negected):
What Tom discounts however is the impact of blog self-publishing on traditional print media. Like all of Internet media, blogging creates competition by adding yet another new medium to divert eyeballs. And the better job blogs do in producing new information (not just commentary on someone else's information) the more of a diversion they will be. But unless people start charging for blogs the impact may be worse for the journalists than it will be for the media conglomerates. Through the magic of blogs journalists now get to do for free what they used to be paid to do!
UPDATE II: Dan Gillmor has a good column on this today, saying: "while doubts about the memo's authenticity were first raised on the Internet, some of the self-congratulatory online chest-thumping is overdone." This is basically my point. Oh, and this afternoon, Rather finally admitted his error and apologized. And for a lighter take, check out Wolcott's expose on CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.